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14 Short Whitechapel Bell Foundry Poems

March 3, 2019
by the gentle author

Dan Thompson wrote these fourteen short poems about the Whitechapel Bell Foundry and its bells, as part of his project to write hundred poems about hundred places in England.

These are published for the first time here today and complemented with photographs of the foundry by Charlotte Dew. Below you can also find details of how you can help save the Whitechapel Bell Foundry by writing a letter of objection to the bell-themed boutique proposal to Tower Hamlets Council.

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The Whitechapel Sound

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I

The clapper strikes the place-bell’s rim,

a 1930s tune by Mears and Stainbank.

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Down in a spireless church on the coast -

Captain Sophie Littlechild leads the band

in a Kent Treble Bob Major,

ringing a Kentish rag.

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The changes are heard up in the Cinque Port.

Eight still bells hold the peace

they’ve kept since before the Great War:

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but the bells of St Clements sound,

‘Oranges and lemons, oranges and lemons.’

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II

In the Arundel Tower at Canterbury.

Dunstan’s Bell sounds the hour

for pilgrims at the site of the martyr.

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Thomas gave his will

to find freedom in the will of god.

He has been killed for his faith:

so we mourn -

he has been elevated to the company of saints:

so we rejoice.

He has been killed:

the bells will be silent for a year.

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‘It is only in these our Christian mysteries that we can rejoice and mourn at once for the same reason’.

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III

An old signalling-station,

a tower that flies the White Ensign,

the Prime Minister sung in the choir

as the bells brought by boat,

floated down the Estuary,

pealed over war graves

and Bones’ fields.

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IV

Along the Estuary, on the hour,

promenaders at Herne Bay,

and pleasure-trippers boarding Thanet wherries,

ghost figures on a ghost pier,

set their watches by the bell in

Mrs Thwaytes’ Clock Tower.

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The hour drifts on the tides

to sea forts, pirate radio stations,

across the windfarms.

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V

On the line between English and Danish,

Christopher Wren built a church,

German thunderbolts destroyed it -

the spire burning like a candle-

the Royal Air Force restored it.

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Sign and countersign, fall and rise -

‘They held out their arms for you to pass under’

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The man who burnt

Hamburg and Dresden

stands outside.

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‘Lord, do you want us to

call fire down from heaven

to destroy them?’

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VI

Two Sticks and Apple,

Ring the Bells at Whitechapple

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When I am Rich,

Ring the Bells at Fleetditch

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We were made in this place

Ring the Bells at Boniface.

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VII

Big Ben in

The Elizabeth Tower,

St Paul’s, Westminster Abbey -

London rings.

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The bells in Wren’s

St Mary-le-Bow

would have been heard

six miles to the east,

five miles to the north,

three miles to the south,

four miles to the west.

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In St Andrew by the Wardrobe,

the bell rings by itself

when the vicar in Avenbury dies.

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VIII

Be not afeard,

the isle is full of the

noise of bells -

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Work No 1197:

All The Bells.

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The wide bell

rings low and so loud,

nine hundred million people

can hear it.

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IX

Before each service,

the tenor rings seventeen times,

once for each of the Lewes martyrs:

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one ring more than

the years of protestant

Thomasina Wood’s life.

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X

Target 53.

The Kampfgruppe dropped marker flares

at the corners of the city.

From 20,000 feet, a cathedral looks like a factory.

St Michael’s burned, a magnesium flame

melting lead, catching in the oak roof.

The water ran dry before midnight.

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Churchill stood on the

Air Ministry roof, waiting

for bombs that never fell on London.

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The old Pack & Chapman bells,

‘each bell of good, bold and pleasing tone,

a very fine peal of ten’, recast,

rang as the bombs fell.

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XI

Habemus vicarium at Granchester -

‘we have a vicar, we have a vicar’

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XII

Wind the handle,

a turn for each day of the year,

and Great Tom will mark the hour.

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Cover the fire.

Two bells call the curfew,

one hundred and one rings.

Cover the fire.

Cover the fire.

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XIII

The edge, the Borders,

St Andrew’s in Penrith,

where Kathleen Raine

sat out the war.

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‘Write

me a piece about the

grave, James Joyce’.

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Ken Twentyman will

show you the Fire Bell,

the Market Bell,

the Curfew Bell -

the Morta Bell for death.

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XIV

After each round of bells

is a moment of silence,

change, before the bells

ring round again. In the

peace after and before

you can hear Whitechapel.

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___________

Footnotes

I St Mary’s, Walmer, Kent: St Peter’s, Sandwich, Kent (where the bells last rung in 1913), St Clement’s

II Quote from TS Eliot Murder In The Cathedral.

III St Peters in Thanet, Broadstairs: the local farmer is Mr Bones.

IV Herne Bay Clocktower

V St Clement Danes, the RAF church. Quote from George Orwell Nineteen Eighty Four and Luke 9:54.

IX St Thomas, Lewes

Dan Thompson, Peace Poet


You can help save the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as a living foundry by submitting an objection to the boutique hotel proposal to Tower Hamlets council. Please take a moment this weekend to write your letter of objection. The more objections we can lodge the better, so please spread the word to your family and friends.

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HOW TO OBJECT EFFECTIVELY

Use your own words and add your own personal reasons for opposing the development. Any letters which simply duplicate the same wording will count only as one objection.

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1. Quote the application reference: PA/19/00008/A1

2. Give your full name and postal address. You do not need to be a resident of Tower Hamlets or of the United Kingdom to register a comment but unless you give your postal address your objection will be discounted.

3. Be sure to state clearly that you are OBJECTING to Raycliff Capital’s application.

4. Point out the ‘OPTIMUM VIABLE USE’ for the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is as a foundry not a boutique hotel.

5. Emphasise that you want it to continue as a foundry and there is a viable proposal to deliver this.

6. Request the council refuse Raycliff Capital’s application for change of use from foundry to hotel.

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WHERE TO SEND YOUR OBJECTION

You can write an email to

planningandbuilding@towerhamlets.gov.uk

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you can post your objection direct on the website by following this link to Planning and entering the application reference PA/19/00008/A1

or

you can send a letter to

Town Planning, Town Hall, Mulberry Place, 5 Clove Crescent, London, E14 2BG

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You may also like to read about

A Bell-Themed Boutique Hotel?

Nigel Taylor, Tower Bell Manager

Benjamin Kipling, Bell Tuner

Hope for The Whitechapel Bell Foundry

A Petition to Save the Bell Foundry

Save the Whitechapel Bell Foundry

So Long, Whitechapel Bell Foundry

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Jill Wilson permalink
    March 3, 2019

    Beautiful stuff which I hope will inspire even more people to send in their objections…

  2. Laura Williamson permalink
    March 3, 2019

    I love this, a fitting tribute to the breadth and importance of the work of the little foundry in Whitechapel reaching over centuries (and we fervently hope for centuries to come)

    ‘X’ moved me to tears; I have known people who were there that night.

    Thank you Dan.

  3. March 3, 2019

    Look at the magnificence of the foundry and what we are losing. Thank you for the photos and the reflective verse that will hopefully make the council think again

  4. March 3, 2019

    Thought provoking words paying homage to the history of the Foundry.
    Let us hope that the Tower Hamlets Planning Committee are deluged with objections as a result of the GA’s inspiring blogs spreading the word.

  5. Nan Holcomb permalink
    March 4, 2019

    I have sent an email to the planning council objecting to the demolition of the foundry. Being from the United States, I’m not sure how much it will help, but I thought they should know that many of us seek out churches with change ringing each time we visit, and how tragic it would be to lose the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. I hope it helps.

  6. Bernie permalink
    June 20, 2019

    Considring the breadth and depth of the history that the bells of this foundry relate to it ought to be constituted as a living museum, if not a working facility.

    Has the Victoria & Albert Museum been consulted/approached. Surely it is a museum-quality artefact?

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